Imagine: Celebrating Black Female Creativity is sure to be an important must-see exhibition this summer. The exhibition – rich in painters, photographers, sculptors and artists working in collage, prints, mixed media and textiles – is presented in the Francine Kelly Gallery at the Featherstone Center for the Arts, a perfect, light-filled space to accentuate this splendor of the imagination . The show is the brainchild of Adrienne L. Childs, who has been acclaimed for her work on black artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. She serves as Adjunct Curator at the Phillips Collection and Associate of the WEB Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and is the winner of this year’s David C. Driskell Prize – an annual award for individuals who are African American Pushing art and art history in new directions.
Childs was originally asked to curate an exhibition by two accomplished artists in segregated Washington, DC – Lilian Thomas Burwell and her aunt Hilda Wilkinson Brown, who happened to have close ties to Vineyard. Rich, who herself has been associated with the island for 40 years, reflected that historically the vineyard was a haven where black artists could come and thrive. She decided to take a broader look at Black women artists with Vineyard connections and then invite others from around the world to create an exciting dialogue between the works, all of which celebrate the creativity of Black women. The resulting show is a mix of old pieces by artists who are no longer with us, to new work by living artists aged 30 to 70 – and a wonderful selection from Burwell, who is in her 90s.
Although there will be a variety of themes, Childs says, “One of the things that struck me is that there are a lot of depictions of black portraits that flourish and they’re decorative, bubbly and colorful. It is an extended view of the black body. I see this phenomenon as portraiture’s liberation from pain.” By turning this notion of beauty on its head, Childs feels it is almost surreal at times. The older women tend to be more realistic in their depiction and as such there will be a mix of figurative and abstract art. Childs points out that even some of the photographs are abstract, and she likes the way these pieces engage with some of the abstract painters. The show is not divided into discrete sections divided by medium, but hung to create dialogues between them that make us think about their connection.
Of developing this so-called conversation, Childs says, “Hanging the show is the most fun thing because it’s a creative act.” She adds that curating, or choosing, the pieces is also a creative process. Adds Childs: “You pick them, and when someone else comes in and curates the exhibition, the exhibition looks completely different. It’s a creative act upon a creative act.”
Childs recognizes the dynamic in viewing the achievements of black women in literature and film and believes this show will generate significant interest. Noting that we’re reaching such a large literary and musical presence on the island, she believes, “We can start to attract visual artists of the same caliber here.”
Referring to the show’s title, Childs says, “I wanted to think about what all women have in common, apart from their race and what they do. They imagine. And I think the word opens it up, doesn’t limit it to one thing. And how do we imagine ourselves, our environment? How do we use our imagination to heal, understand history, project into the future? How do we imagine our loved ones?”
Most importantly, Childs emphasizes, “I want the exhibition to be fun. That’s why I call it celebrating the creativity of black women – because it’s the common thread running through all these artists who have worked and are still working. These will be all paths that black women have created since the early 20th century. There are so many different directions this work is taking and I celebrate them all.”
Imagine: Celebrating Black Female Creativity at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. Opening Reception on Sunday 7 August from 4pm to 6pm and 12pm to 4pm until Labor Day 5 September.